Council scrutinizes Pezold over downtown financial interests

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Less than a week after the election, Mayor Rick Hall appeared to have finally identified a target in the months of rumored accusations by members of the community and council candidates that at least one person connected to the City was engaged in unethical activity connected to at least one capital improvement project.

Hall requested a meeting with Liberty Hill developer and Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Chris Pezold over the rumors that had never identified a particular person, and no one throughout the campaign was willing to elaborate on publicly or to The Independent.

Hall confirmed the two did have a meeting on the issue.

“We did discuss some,” Hall said. “But right now I’m going to refrain from making any comments until I have another chance to meet with him and ask some follow-up questions I have.”

Hall would not say whether anyone else was being questioned regarding the rumors and allegations of unethical activity.

The two met, along with City Administrator Greg Boatright May 13, where Pezold said he was asked to explain his connection to both the roundabout and Stubblefield projects downtown.

“He said it was about my properties I had on Stubblefield and he also said Loop 332,” Pezold said of Hall’s inquiry. “He just said it’s questionable you sold this property (connected to the roundabout) to the City. The Mayor asked me to step down. He said, ‘Because of public perception I think you should step down from the Planning and Zoning Commission.”

Responding to the suggestion he step down, Pezold said the public perception was the one the Mayor and elected Council members perpetuated and that he would not step down based on the rumors.

Pezold said Hall presented no evidence in their meeting that anything unethical or illegal had occurred, and said Hall only referenced “rumors and public perception.”

Some property owned by Pezold was sold to the City for a portion of the roundabout and the parking lot now planned for the property adjacent to the north side of the roundabout. He also owns property in the current projected path for Stubblefield and has two housing developments in the downtown area.

According to Pezold, his impression at the end of the conversation was that Hall was “remorseful” over the issue.

“I went through the (Loop) 332, that whole deal, and then I went through everything on Stubblefield, I mean we talked about an hour and a half and at the end of it I felt that he was remorseful about how the people he supported represented me in the paper,” Pezold said. “He asked me to come in and speak to the Council in executive session.”

Once he speaks to the Council in executive session, currently planned for the next regular meeting May 28, Pezold hopes the Council will set the record straight.

Initially, Hall said that Pezold had asked to speak to the Council directly.

“He asked to, so I’m considering allowing him to do that,” Hall said. “I’m going to talk to Greg (Boatright) and see from his standpoint if we need to do that or not, so hopefully between now and the end of the week I’ll be able to have that squared away so we can figure it all out.”

But then he clarified that he brought the issue up to Pezold in the conversation.

“I asked him if he would be willing to, I didn’t ask him if he would,” Hall said. “I need to speak with legal counsel and Greg (Boatright) and see if that something that we want to propose and if it is I’d be more than happy to have him do it.”

The Stubblefield project was one Pezold publicly supported previously because it appeared to be the quickest way to relieve traffic in the downtown area. He now says if the proposed SH 29 bypass Williamson County is considering for its November bond election makes the cut and is passed, that he would prefer that project to Stubblefield.

“It’s always been with the belief that the SH 29 bypass was 10 to 20 years off,” Pezold said. “If it could potentially be two years off (for the bypass) they should throw out the Stubblefield extension. Throw it out completely.”

Rumors and accusations
Over the 10-week campaign season, rumors spread throughout local social media pages alleging unethical activity, but rarely were those accusations connected to a name or specific incident.

At a March council meeting, one resident addressed the Council on the one-way streets issue, issuing a non-specific warning to everyone of the legal ramifications of accepting benefits related to City projects, but again did not name a specific incident.

“…I want to remind you of your civic duty to do what is best for the community without any personal interest,” said Jennifer King. “This is just a reminder that the Texas Penal Code, section 36.02 makes it a crime of bribery for a City Council member to accept or agree to a decision in which said officers benefit directly or substantially.”

A letter to the editor in The Independent April 25 was the only instance where Pezold’s name was used in connection to an alleged conflict of interest.

Through his social media campaign page, new Council member Steve McIntosh cited alleged violations “pertaining to members of the EDC working with appointed city employees on development plans in violation of state ethics rules.”

He did mention Boatright and the Planning and Zoning Commission in one post, saying that residents were looking closely now at actions of both.

“Up to now, my opponent has been an unconcerned rubber stamp to the wishes of a city manager that has previously been involved in serious misdeeds,” he wrote. “Future development connections are the focus of this council through the P and Z and those that they appoint to it. In my career in law enforcement we had an adage. ‘Do the right thing, even when no one is looking’. Well, people in this town have begun to look, and they dont{sic} like what they see.”

McIntosh previously told The Independent that his suspicions came from a variety of sources.

“I’ve been told that there are two property owner types on the Stubblefield route,” he said. “One is personal friends and two is LLCs formed with council friends and family and the council members as silent partners. I don’t know the validity of those claims but, if true, it would explain why they are so insistent on putting a roadway in that will be redundant once the county puts the bypass in. It also would explain the apparent urgency to get the project moving forward.”

After the election, all three winning candidates pledged to look into the allegations of unethical activity.

“That’s going to be something that’s up for discussion, but it will be addressed,” McIntosh said. “It was a campaign issue, it came from the public, it’s not going to be put aside now that the election is over. There will be some focus on those issues, going backward to review those issues. I don’t want to say too much about that because I haven’t spoken with the other Council members about it in detail, but there will be a focus on that.”

Council member Liz Rundzieher also said she had information on the allegations, but declined to elaborate.

Gram Lankford agreed that the issue should be investigated.

“I think if laws are being broken, if any of the rumors hold any value, I think it is going to be more than just saying these people had ties to each other and they were colluding to make money,” he said. “That would have to be investigated to see if any of the claims hold any value.”

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